New Delhi: Facing the threat of downgrading of the aviation safety net, the task is cut out for new DGCA chief Arun Mishra, who said his prime focus would be to take all measures to ensure safe and secure flying in India.
UN-body International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is scheduled to carry out a safety audit of the aviation regulator this year-end, even as the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) faces an acute staff shortage, adversely affecting its activities.
Similar safety audits are also carried out on a regular basis by the International Air Transport Association and US Federal Aviation Administration.
"Naturally, the top priority will be safety. All measures to further strengthen aviation safety will have to be taken. We also have staff shortage which has to be attended to," Mishra said soon after taking over the top DGCA post.
He said the quarterly review of safety issues concerning airlines and their financial condition would continue as scheduled.
The aviation regulator has, since the days of Mishra's predecessor EK Bharat Bhushan, been constantly monitoring the airlines to ensure that safety issues are not neglected due to the financial crunch they have been facing.
A conference of the chiefs of civil aviation regulators of 36 countries of Asia-Pacific would be held in Delhi this October. The countries include Japan, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, Mishra said.
The conference, which would be held for the first time in India, would find ways to strengthen international bilateral and multilateral cooperation and improve sharing of data and the best global practices on safety, he said.
Mishra takes over at a time when a legislation is almost in its final stages to convert DGCA into a Civil Aviation Authority, which would be an autonomous body with much greater financial and functional freedom.
Aviation consultancy group Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) said in a recent study that India could face the possibility of downgrading of its aviation safety system by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) if urgent steps to strengthen institutions like DGCA to meet the challenges of a fast-growing air traffic were not taken.
In 2009, the FAA, concerned by what it considered to be gross under-staffing of DGCA, had threatened to downgrade India to Category-II status. But swift steps on recruitment and promises for more time-bound measures led India to pass the FAA audit and retain its Category-I status, that is on a par with developed nations.
CAPA pointed out that a concerted effort to restructure the DGCA "appears to be on hold pending establishment of a new independent regulator" in the form of the CAA.
"CAPA believes the weakness of the DGCA is one of the most critical issues for India's industry in FY13. Safety is paramount and without an independent and capable regulator India will not be able to achieve the standards which it must aim for," the report said.